Bursting the Bitcoin Bubble: Assessing the Fundamental Value and Social Costs of Bitcoin
Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, are electronic payment systems that permit transactions to be made under pseudo-anonymity and without middlemen.
This paper develops a microeconomic model of bitcoin production to analyze the economic effects of the Bitcoin protocol. I view the bitcoin as a tradable commodity that is produced by miners and whose supply is managed by the protocol. The findings show that bitcoin’s volatile price path and inefficiency are related, and that both are a consequence of the protocol’s system of supply management. I characterize the fundamental value of a bitcoin and demonstrate that the return on bitcoin appreciates proportionally to the rate of increase in the level of difficulty. In the model, where the price of a bitcoin is based on marginal production costs, successive positive demand shocks result in a rapidly increasing price path that may be mistaken for a bubble. The generalized supremum augmented Dickey-Fuller (GSADF) test is used to demonstrate that the model is able to account for the explosive behavior in the bitcoin price path, providing strong evidence that bitcoin is not a bubble. I also show that the difficulty adjustment mechanism results in social welfare losses from 17 March 2014 to 13 January 2019 of $323.8 million, which is about 9.3% of the miners’ total electricity costs during this time period.